Sparking Up with TMS Ruge

“Engage! Also reciprocate, invest, mentor, be constructive, etc.”

There’s a great interview with development critic TMS Ruge at the also great TinySpark. I have some thoughts…

TMS and Amy lay out a pretty good case. A lot of the negatives he identifies happened in South Sudan: Washington D.C. and others chose the form of assistance, the recipients and the goal (strong central government to defend against Sudan and terrorists, an economy based on the oil industry). Now when this strategy failed, they call South Sudan a “failed state” and the dominant narrative is that the USA and others must “save” South Sudan.
How can that possibly be right?

It’s really time that we took away this veneer that Western governments have the responsibility of developing countries that are less developed. I think there’s a role for emerging countries and emerging communities to play in global development. And we need to be supported according to the way we want to develop, not how it’s designed in Washington or London.

There’s no way to stop the West from involving itself in developing countries. There will always be a “national security” interest, whether that’s the Cold War with the USSR or Cold War 2: Son of Cold War with China or the War on Terror. There will always be an economic interest too.

That’s the kind of inertia TMS describes when he says the South is being excluded from how Development is defined and how it happens. It’s dangerous and it doesn’t work well.

We (speaking as an American working in an East African country) have to start over from the position TMS describes. Let the community/entrepreneur define what they want to do and help them build on it. It’s not about becoming the Mark Zuckerberg of antimalarials or the Bill Gates of microlending. Your web app isn’t going to be “the next Facebook”, but you can make a lasting impact if you help someone set up their community’s first locally-run clean water bottling factory.

I absolutely think there is a role to participate. There is a role to engage. There is a role to support, to finance, to reciprocate efforts. Just because we’re kicking back doesn’t mean there aren’t creative ways to really engage and be constructive in the effort. We need mentors in business. We need mentors in civil society. We need investment for our startups. We have a huge startup culture. Instead of doing solutions for us, invest in the solutions that are being created to fix Africa’s problems that are being created by Africans.

The South is up against a whole mix of protected interests, patronizing attitudes and skeptics — just like the civil rights movement and even the integration of women in the military (again, from an American perspective).

Under heavy scrutiny and in a tense atmosphere we have to change those attitudes, challenge those interests and convince the skeptics. It’s impossible without a strong sense of purpose and a support network

And in the end it is about justice and economics. The world is better when more people are more free to create and exchange.

Somebody in my village who probably makes less than a dollar a day can have three organic meals a day, can send their children to school, and they have the healthiest lungs everywhere …Why can we not call that development? Why do we have to call it something else? Why does he have to have a car, garage, and running electricity and all of that, and credit cards in order for it to be considered development?

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